85 per cent of health websites popular in Hong Kong ‘give bad advice’

One app studied by pharmacists said it was OK to give children aspirin for fever

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 June, 2017, 3:58pm

Beware of browsing online for medical help – around 85 per cent of websites examined in a study carried inaccurate advice.

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong, which reviewed 50 popular health-related websites or mobile apps, found that even those operated by major insurance companies were at fault.

“Information offered by international insurance firms might not be completely trustworthy,” the society’s president, William Chui Chun-ming, warned.

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An app developed by the Taiwanese branch of a global insurance company, for instance, stated that aspirin could be used to treat fever and pain relief for children.

But Chui said health care professionals did not prescribe the drug to children aged 12 or younger as it could lead to Reye syndrome, a condition which could damage liver and has a mortality rate of about 40 per cent.

The study also identified an inaccurate online article on osteoporosis by Bupa Hong Kong. This stated that the body could produce enough vitamin D for a year after 15 to 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight.

But Chui said that according to scientific literature the amount produced would be one-fourth of the vitamin D needed for one day only.

Bupa Hong Kong told the Post the content of its article was “unclear” and that its medical team had immediately reviewed and amended it.

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Even information on cancer treatment in the Commercial Press website was found to be misleading, as a book summary stated the survival period for patients would be four times longer if they refused conventional treatment, compared with those receiving treatment.

“That was totally groundless. Has the bookstore read the information before releasing it for sale?” Chui asked. “Patients might have missed the best treatment time if accepting the misleading information.”

The bookstore did not reply to a request for comment.

He suggested people seek advice from doctors or pharmacists to verify information from the internet.

An information website operated by the Drug Education Resources Centre, formed in 2002 under the society, has been launched to provide accurate drug advice to the public.

Chiang Sau-chu, the centre’s director, said: “Now there isn’t much choice on proper drug information. Consulting non-professional groups could result in inaccurate information.”